This is the start of a watercolour of a Whale I am working on. As you can see I want to maintain a simple shape with all the narrative inside the shape. Whales have been in stories and mythology stretching back into the mists of time. Perhaps the most famous is that of….
Jonah and the whale.
A story from the bible about the conflict between Jonah and God. God calls Jonah to proclaim judgment to the city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t like being told what to do so makes a run for it. He boards a ship to Tarshish. God summons up a great storm, the crew of the boat toss Jonah overboard to try to appease God.
A Whale is called up by god comes and swallows Jonah. He is inside the whales belly for three days and then the whale vomits him up onto dry land.
Jonah obeys the call to prophesy against Nineveh. The people of Nineveh repent and God forgives them. Job done! Well not quite, Jonah is angry with God because he thought he was merciful and just and being swallowed by a whale is neither of those things! Jonah asks God to kill him. He doesn’t he grows a vine to shade Jonah from the sun. Jonah is still angry so god sends a worm to wither the vine. Jonah is angry about the vine. so God scolds him for being concerned about the vine but not about the six score population of lost people in Nineveh.
I love this idea. The sleeping hulk of a whale is mistaken by sailor’s as an uncharted Island. This Whale Island story is as old as maritime literature itself. An early reference of such an occurance, comes from the Physiologus (Greek, second century), a collection of anecdotes dealing mainly with natural history.
“There is a certain whale in the sea called the aspidoceleon, that is exceedingly large like an island … Ignorant sailors tie thier ships to the beast as to an island and plant thier anchors and stakes in it. They light their cooking fires on the whale, but when it feels the heat it urinates and plunges into the depths, sinking all the ships.”
There is a Whale Island episode in Sinbad,
“We came at length to a little island as fair as the Garden of Eden. The passengers went ashore and set to work to light a fire. Some busied themselves with cooking and washing, some fell to eating and drinking and making merry …
Whilst we were thus engaged we suddenly heard the captain cry out to us from the ship: ‘All aboard quickly! Abandon everything and run for your lives! The mercy of Allah be upon you, for this is no island but a giganitic whale floating on the bosom of the sea, on whose back the sands have settled and trees have grown since the world was young! When you lit the fire, it felt the heat and stirred. Make haste, I say, or soon the whale will plunge into the sea and you will all be lost!’
Some reached the ship in safety, but others did not; for suddenly the island shook beneath our feet and, submerged by mountainous waves, sank with all that stood upon it to the bottom of the roaring ocean.”
When I get this one painted and finished I’ll post with more info.